By Paul Garrod
PAW PAW – On Feb. 22, Van Buren County Commissioners approved a request to waive the county’s procurement and bidding policy and to approve a proposal by DCS Technologies.
In August of 2019, Market Van Buren organized the first meeting of the Van Buren County Internet Task Force (ITF). The ITF includes representatives from a variety of stakeholders which includes community leaders, elected officials, local internet service providers (ISPs), and technology experts. The group was convened to discuss the issue of broadband access and expansion in Van Buren County.
The county is considering using ARPA funds, approximately $96,000, for the expansion of broadband, with $3,400 reimbursement by the city of South Haven for Casco Township’s portion. Commissioners said it was best to proceed with a company that is not an ISP. To date, commissioners have worked with and/or have engaged with three other entities, besides DCS Technologies. Commissioners said DCS Technologies does not do mailer-based surveys, however, but it does offer parcel level detailed reporting with boots on the ground research. None of the ISPs that are part of the ITF offered any other sources that provide parcel level mapping and are not an ISP.
Commissioners reached out to Leelanau, Washtenaw, and Berrien counties to learn more about their approach in this process. All agreed, the step Van Buren County commissioners are proposing to take now with DCS Technologies will place the county ahead of many others by pursuing the parcel level details first. Commissioners stated parcel level details will assist the county in making decisions regarding broadband expansion efforts in unserved and underserved areas of the county.
The final report from DCS Technologies will also expedite the county’s ability to apply for additional funds related to broadband expansion efforts.
Commissioners also approved to increase the default county surcharge rate established by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) by $1.83 per device located within Van Buren County that can access 9-1-1 for the period of July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2023, as approved by the voters of Van Buren County at the August 2020 primary election.
With this increase, the county surcharge imposed by Van Buren County upon each service device located within Van Buren County that can access 9-1-1 will be $3 from July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2023, as approved by the voters in the August 2020 Primary Election.
Commissioners also approved an engagement letter with the attorney firm, Miller Johnson, the county’s general counsel for county affairs.
On Feb. 10, Miller Canfield contacted the county to inform that Attorney Leigh Schultz had left their firm and moved to Miller Johnson. The letter advised the county that it could continue to work with Miller Canfield or follow Attorney Schultz at Miller Johnson. Miller Canfield charged $285 per hour and Miller Johnson will be at $290 per hour for Attorney Schultz’s services.
Commissioners also approved a request that new Family Division Administrator, Natalie Dean, be placed on the Court Association pay scale at range and step 35 B High.
The reason for the recommended placement on the pay scale is due to Ms. Dean’s extensive professional experience. The position was posted requesting a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, court administration, public administration, management, business administration, human resource management or other related field; three years of progressively responsible experiences in administration, including at least two years of supervisory experience preferred. Ms. Dean comes to Van Buren County with local government experience beginning in 2004. She has held several positions, such as assistant city manager, directory of community services, planning & zoning administrator, and HR director. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Spring Arbor University in Computer-Mediated Communication and a master’s of science degree from Central Michigan University in Public Administration.
Commissioners said Ms. Dean comes highly recommended from her previous and current employers and they believe that her education and experience warrant her starting beyond the beginning of the pay scale.
Commissioners also approved an InDigital quote to replace/refresh 911 Customer Premise Equipment (CPE) phone equipment at a total cost of $72,257.68. Commissioners said the Van Buren County 911 system was upgraded to NG911 in April 2017. Current CPE phone equipment is at end of life in spring 2022 and was scheduled/ budgeted for replacement/refresh. The quote includes the addition of one phone position at the supervisor’s position.
Approval was also given for Van Buren Public Transit to change two parttime driver positions to two fulltime positions. Currently, Public Transit has nine fulltime drivers fulfilling the current bargaining agreement. However, due to staff shortages, some parttime drivers have been steadily working over 30 hours a week to fill in. Commissioners said by adding two fulltime driver positions, it would alleviate the need of having some of them work over the 30-hour a week threshold. It would also avoid them leaving for fulltime employment elsewhere.
In a related request, commissioners approved to place all members of AFSCME Public Transit on the AFSCME Unified pay scale.
Van Buren County contract negotiators met with the union and provided a proposal which identifies each member, where they would be placed and the impact it would provide. The method for scale placement was started by looking at where each employee is now and placing them at a step that gave them at least a $0.25 increase. These increases would be absorbed by the existing budget for Public Transit wages with an estimated increased impact of $56,043.60.
Commissioners also approved a request for the retirement and adoption of K-9 Aspen. K-9 Aspen’s handler Scott Schmitt has retired from the sheriff’s office and is requesting to adopt and purchase K-9 Aspen. Van Buren County Sheriff Daniel Abbott has agreed to allow Schmitt to purchase Aspen for $1 upon board approval. K-9 Aspen is a five year old female German Shepherd and has been with her K-9 handler since she was a puppy. It is customary when K-9 handlers leave the unit or retire to have the K-9 go with the handler, as this is the family the K-9 is accukkkkkstomed to.